Democrats Can’t Be Counted On to Stop the MAGA Right, So Socialists Are Stepping Up
After the midterms, Congress will have more socialists than ever—while progressive policies won across the country. The Left will have to use its power to take on the anti-democratic GOP.
The midterm election results grant an opening for the Left. Rather than ushering in a widely-predicted “red wave,” Republicans fared much more poorly than parties out of power generally perform in midterms, with Democrats retaining their majority in the U.S. Senate and control of the House coming down to a razor-thin margin.
The GOP and the party’s right-wing backers unsuccessfully tried to scare voters by warning of a coming socialist threat, but the truth is that socialists organized to protect U.S. democracy, defend human rights and win elected office across the country. Along with a growing left electoral infrastructure, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), where I serve on the National Political Committee, seized this moment to reject the Right’s reactionary agenda.
In the House, the entire Squad was re-elected, which includes DSA members and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.). They will be joined next year by democratic socialists Greg Casar, who won his House election in Texas, as well as Summer Lee, who won in Pennsylvania. As a result, the next Congress will include more socialists than at any point in U.S. history. Nationwide, hundreds of DSA members will hold public office next year, including in 14 state caucuses (where more than one DSA member serves in the legislature). Socialists also helped pass key ballot measures preserving abortion protections and expanding workers’ rights.
Despite these progressive successes, Republicans should be expected to regroup — and we can’t count on Democrats to stop them. After all, the Democratic establishment worked to defeat progressives in primaries by lifting up centrists, and when left candidates won, the party often didn’t invest in them during the general election against the GOP. For example, Democratic leadership stood by as the pro-Israel group AIPAC spent $2 million against Summer Lee in her campaign against a more moderate Democrat and then AIPAC went on to spend an additional $1 million supporting her Republican opponent in the general, illustrating the danger of not challenging deep-pocketed interests with support from the party.
Democrats have also embraced a strategy of propping up anti-democratic MAGA Republicans in GOP primaries, and some commentators are now crediting that effort for Democrats’ midterm successes, rather than recognizing victories like that of Senator-elect John Fetterman in Pennsylvania stemmed largely from his working-class bonafides and economic populist policy ideas. The lesson of the elections is clear: voters want progressive policies — and will support progressive candidates.
Donald Trump has already announced that he’s running for president again. But whether he is the Republican nominee in 2024 or another authoritarian like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the right-wing base will likely come for whatever democracy we have left in the next election, refusing to accept results that don’t hand them power. It’s unclear if national Democrats and their consultants understand that things won’t simply return to normal.
It is the job of socialists to oppose this threat, while also resisting other attacks on the integrity of democratic elections. We need to actively build out a mass base and broad coalitions that can fight back and protect our wins. This kind of organizing — collective working-class self defense — is the only long-term solution to rising fascism, and it’s found in union halls, in workplaces, in schools, in social movements, and in moments of mass mobilization. We grow our power by strengthening working-class institutions outside of election cycles, to rebuild civic life and trust with our neighbors.
In addition to electoral work, DSA is engaged in campaigns to win a Green New Deal, to ensure tenants’ rights, and to expand workplace organizing through projects like our Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee (EWOC) and coordinate solidarity efforts through our National Labor Commission (NLC). In collaboration with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, EWOC trains workers to organize in their workplaces, and our NLC supports DSA chapters to reliably support local strikes by members or other workers in their communities. As part of this project, we are currently mobilizing to support the nearly 50,000 academic workers across the University of California system who are out on strike for a fair contract.
The recent upsurge in worker militancy, the surge of post-Roe feminist activism, the youth-led campaigns to fight climate change, and the persistent power-building efforts in communities of color open doors to building the durable and combative mass-based organizations necessary to anchor a lasting movement for justice. As the largest socialist organization in the country, DSA is faced with the responsibility of not only helping build a new world, but convincing people that the new world will be born before the old one dies — and us with it.
This starts with owning our mistakes on the Left. In our frustration with the neoliberal Democrats, we underestimated the radicalization of the Right and relinquished much of the responsibility of defeating Trump. This put us at a disadvantage to organize against Trumpism once it took root. We now face an increasingly dangerous Republican Party captured by the same far-right forces taking power across the globe and normalizing their hate through mainstream and social media. They demonize collective responsibility and public health and reframe their barbarity as freedom. The Right will only continue to escalate their violence by chipping away at the hard-won rights of the working class. Which means as socialists, we must not give them an inch.
That’s why our work in these midterm elections has been so important. In total, DSA won 75% of our 33 nationally-endorsed races and ballot measures, in addition to more than 40 locally-endorsed wins across the country. We won ballot measures that will impact millions of people and saw DSA members elected in every corner of the United States, from California to New York, Montana, Colorado and Wisconsin. And while we gained a number of new seats last week, we did not lose a single re-election campaign.
When people feel isolated and powerless, social movement groups must advance policy at the local and state level that centers working-class interests to show what a difference these policies can make in peoples’ lives. For example, our chapters in Washington, D.C., Illinois, and Maine engaged in hard-fought campaigns to win ballot initiatives mandating a more dignified minimum wage for tipped workers, protecting workers’ rights to collectively bargain, and expanding tenant protections, respectively. Alongside sustained organizing, these wins can help rebuild confidence in political alternatives and provide a pathway to bring more working people into the larger fight against capitalism.
And while the red wave proved to be more of a trickle, the balance of forces in the next Congress will limit the ability to move federal legislation such as the PRO Act that would expand the right to collectively bargain. But socialists and other left elected officials do have the chance to advance bills at the state level, particularly in Minnesota, where five DSA members will serve in the state House and Senate, and in Michigan, where a DSA member, Abraham Aiyash, is the incoming Majority Floor leader.
As socialists, we’ve also organized to enshrine working peoples’ rights by building a united front to protect abortion at the state level. In all five state referendums last week (in California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont), voters upheld reproductive rights and successfully fought back attempts to curtail them. These victories showcase the potential of ballot measures to not just protect but expand abortion rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Of those five states, DSA chapters in Kentucky and Montana served a key role in turning out voters. Kentucky DSA chapters contacted 20,000 voters at their doors and over the phone, and sent almost three million text messages, focusing on rural counties. Areas where our Montana chapters focused their efforts (Helena, Bozeman, Billings and Missoula) saw the highest vote margins against the anti-abortion ballot initiative.
Both of these chapters credit the work of our Kansas chapters for putting them in a better position to organize around these ballot measures. Our Kansas chapters defeated a statewide anti-abortion referendum in August, when DSA members text-banked 1.9 million voters in over 100 rural counties in the state. After that win, our Kansas members trained other states on their strategies, tactics and messaging — particularly when it comes to targeting rural voters.
The future is uncertain but far from determined. Over the next two years, there is a possibility that President Biden may not deliver more needed relief to the working class, that the Federal Reserve will continue driving down worker bargaining power, and that Democrats will capitulate to a politics of fear and austerity. So it will be the job of socialists to name our enemies and provide a compelling and welcoming alternative to this status quo: our primary task is to build the Left in order to defeat the Right. We can let them underestimate us, but we can’t let them out-organize us. That means offering a narrative of solidarity and a program that builds working class power — to show there’s still hope on the horizon.
Kristian Hernandez is chair of the Democratic Socialists of America’s National Political Committee.